Puma’s cease-and-desist letter

Memefirst received an official (and officious) letter from Puma today, telling

us to "IMMEDIATELY cease and desist

from all further display, use and publication of the

offensive PUMA image". Why are they shouting? Why is "immediately"

in all caps? No one knows.

The letter helpfully came in the form of a PDF file, which you can download

here, if you like. Otherwise,

it’s very similar to the letter which Gawker posted

earlier today. Gawker’s also written an open

letter to Puma, wondering why they’re getting so upset about something which

is probably very good for them in their target market.

I asked Puma’s Peter Kim a similar question when I spoke

to him a couple of days ago, and he told me that Puma had received "dozens

of emails" from people upset about the ad. Personally, I’m not particularly

interested in taking a position on whether these images are good or bad for

Puma. But this is obviously something which tens of thousands of people are

interested in, and I feel that I have every right to discuss it on felixsalmon.com,

memefirst.com, or anywhere else.

The web page which Puma is asking me to take down states very clearly that

the ads are fake. It is part of a website devoted to the discussion of precisely

this sort of internet meme. Martin Schwimmer, over at trademarkblog, who is

a trademark lawyer and knows his onions, certainly doesn’t

think much of Puma’s tactics:

As to the threats that are being bandied about to those folks reproducing

the ad on their sites, let’s go over some (U.S.) ground rules. If you’re not

using the trademark in commerce, you’re not infringing and you’re not diluting.

If you re-publish a false statement with the indication that it is false (and

in fact publish it because its falsity is news), then you are not commiting

libel or trade disparagement.

Peter Mastrostefano, Puma’s lawyer, says that the memefirst posting "infringes

upon the trademark rights of PUMA"; Schwimmer says it doesn’t. I’m, obviously,

with Schwimmer on this one. What’s more, I don’t like bullies. Of course, Puma

can afford expensive lawyers, and I can’t. But I’m not going to be cowed quite


Gawker says that "somewhere in the deep recesses of Puma marketing, someone

is snickering into their computer monitor and toasting Photoshop." The

conspiracy theorists, who think this was all the work of Puma to begin with,

are certainly going to think that this whole legal action shenanigans is an

attempt to perpetuate the meme long past the point at which it would naturally

die. But it’s risky, since Puma will now be seen as a big corporate bully rather

than as a cool and streetwise brand.

Peter Kim called me a second time today, to find out who he should send the

cease-and-desist letter to. He was much less friendly this time; in fact, he

was positively curt. I don’t think he minded my previous posting about him;

in fact, he sent me an email saying it was amusing, and thanking me for "the

objective and unbiased reporting". I don’t think he was being sarcastic;

he signed off "best regards". But it’s clear that pretty much everything

is out of his hands at this point.

The pictures aren’t going to go away just by threatening legal action. There

are dozens of sites out there posting them, and if we are eventually forced

to take them down from memefirst, we’ll certainly link to any number of other

places you can view them in their full, unadulterated glory. So I really don’t

understand what Puma thinks it’s going to gain by this.

I’ve got a call in to Mastrostefano; if he gives me an answer, I’ll let you


Oh, yeah, and one other thing. I’m never buying Puma shoes again. It’s adidas all the way for me from now on.

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5 Responses to Puma’s cease-and-desist letter

  1. Khoi Vinh says:

    Don’t even *think* about caving in to legal bullying. I applaud your willingness to stand and fight… and I’m willing to back it up with a donation to a legal fund if it comes to that. Good luck!

  2. geoff says:

    as a semantic point of curiosity.

    if you are in some sort of violation for posting an image on a website… in other words providing a link to a file which causes some sort of damage to some party…

    are your hands any cleaner if you are posting a link to somewhere else to view it?

    is it the fact that the offending file is no longer located on equipment you own? same link… same mechanics… different possesion of offending file?

    does possession of a file on the internet relate to where it resides? or how you get to it?

    if you provide a link to a kiddie porn site- are you a kiddie pornographer?

    if you direct a hitman to the scene of his future crime, knowing full well what he is going to do… are you an accomplice?

    didn’t kant cover something like this in the whole ‘return the sword’ thing?

  3. darinsan says:

    Puma is going about it the de facto corporate way: Be appalled and publically denounce the images and threaten legal action against those displaying them.

    But they have to be secretly high-fiving each other in the board room, because making a lot of noise about this causes even more interest.

    The lady who first bitched about how degrading “Married With Children” was must have been kicking herself when her whining brought huge public interest and the show ran for eleven years.

    The point is this generates brand awareness with a target market who, let’s face it, probably likes cool sneakers and blowjobs.

    They can’t possibly be that angry about this behind closed doors.

    PS. Excellent points you made, Geoff.

  4. Van der Leun says:

    The text of my email to kim at puma:

    Subject: Lame, very, very lame

    …to go around threatening little web sites with big lawyers.

    Get out of that corporate hell-hole now. Remember, money isn’t everything. And it certainly isn’t the first thing.

    BTW: less style and less attitude and more information would make for a much less pretentious web site.

    All the best.

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